10 Tips to Redefining Your Self-Care

When I talk to clients or participants at trainings I facilitate, friends and others about self-care, there is a resounding and recurring notion that implementing a self-care plan requires a lot of time and money. This isn’t a surprise to me. For years, I also carried this belief. I thought that having extra time and money were key components to maintaining a self-care practice. After all, without time how will you get to do the things you want to do, and without money, how will you finance your self-care activities?

There is also a misconception about what self-care is.  What usually comes up as a definition of self-care is spa days, time at the hair salon on regular basis, gym time and vacation. While all these activities are examples of self-care activities, the reality is that for many people these activities can be outside of their reach. Limiting our self-care definition to just a few select activities can hinder our ability to recharge ourselves.

Despite these beliefs, there is growing general agreement that self-care is essential for our overall well-being. Self-care is an effective way to manage stress and a key factor in keeping healthy physically and mentally. The definition of self-care that I have adopted is that of a practice that allows us to strengthen our bodies, minds, and souls.

The great news is that there are many ways to fulfill this endeavor. There is no one-way of doing it and there isn’t such a thing as one size fits all. Self-care can be practiced as it best fits people’s lifestyles, time and resources. And there are many free things that you can do. So let’s forget those standardized self-care checklists and create your own list based on what works for you.

To help incorporate self-care into our daily lives, I propose that rather than doing self-care as a one-time only extravaganza when we feel burned out, we sprinkle self-care throughout our day or week.

Here are a few ideas how:

Mindfulness Meditation. We can take what I call mini vacations through mindfulness meditation, a practice has been proven effective to reducing stress and preventing and managing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. There are many types of mindfulness exercises. One such exercise is deep breathing. We can dedicate as little as 5 minutes a day to deep breathing (or as many times as you need it throughout the day). During our breathing exercises, we focus on our breath, inhaling slowly in and out through our nose.

Visualizations. With the deep breathing, we can add visualization, imagining a place that brings us tranquility and peace as we deep breath in and out or a past happy memory. We can do a variation to our breathing exercises reciting positive affirmations about ourselves or reflecting on things that are going right in our lives. But this is just one possible exercise. Mindfulness is much broader than that. As best put by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in a particular way to what is arising and the present moment. I encourage you to look more into mindfulness.

Time management. Self-care involves self-awareness on the tasks that you can handle and those that may be too much. Practice saying no to extra commitments when your plate is already full or asking for help. Having too demands on us can lead to stress and overwhelming feelings.

Doing things that bring you joy. Do an inventory of things you truly enjoy— starting with little things to big. What is feasible to sprinkle into your day? For some people, it may be drinking your favorite cup of tea, lighting up a candle, listening to your favorite music on the way to work or while at home, going on a bike ride, spending quality time with family and friends, watching their favorite TV show, doing your favorite hobby, etc. Whatever it may be, make it a consistent part of your practice.

Creative Release Outlets. We have seen the explosion of “adult coloring books” marketed as stress reduction tools, and there is evidence to back this up. The trick of coloring is that it is an activity that requires focusing in one task and as we color or paint, it allows us to express ourselves and set free of our worries, even if it is just for a few moments. This can be a fun activity to do alone or with kids. If coloring isn’t your thing, try journaling.  You can experience a sense of release by writing when you are feeling stressed, frustrated, tired, etc., or you may simply enjoy chronicling your positive experiences and looking back to it when you need inspiration or extra boost.

Connecting with nature and exercise. Nature has healing and self-soothing power. A walk in our local park or outside can be the break someone needs and it is not only good for overall physical health but for it improves our mental well-being.

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy both psychically and mentally. One of the things I commonly see is that we may get excited about an exercise routine but that excitement may dwindle or barriers begin to creep in. Instead of thinking of exercise as one more thing to do, think about it as something you need to do for your survival, just like you need to eat, breathe and sleep. To this, adding a self-care buddy that you can enjoy your activity with may make the journey much easier and more fulfilling. Exercise does not have to break your bank. Take to your local park and walk the recommended 30 minutes a day, either during your lunch break, before or after work or get off the metro or bus a few stops before your destination and walk the rest.

Connecting with others. Connecting with others has been found to be a key factor in maintaining our mental health. While we may interact with people throughout the day either through work, school or at home, what I am talking about is having meaningful connections and relationships of people you enjoy spending quality time with. The kind of people who bring you joy, lift you up, listen to you and support you and vice versa.

While technology and social media have great benefits, too much of it can hinder our ability to be present and it can prevent us from enjoying what’s around us. Unplugging occasionally from technology and social media is vital in our quest to taking care of our minds.

Take small breaks during the day. Beyond your lunch break, take small breaks as needed during the day. Make it an intentional practice to move around in your office, school or home. Instead of sending that email to your colleague, walk over to deliver your message in person if feasible.

Self-care buddy. This is my personal favorite: designating someone to hold you accountable on your self-care journey. At work, appoint colleagues who can remind you to have lunch and/or someone you can go on a walk with when stressed. At home, appoint loved ones who can support you in staying healthy and remind you of your commitment to yourself.

Use smartphone apps to support your practice. Some of my favorite are Calm and Bloom. Calm has different visualization images like beaches, mountains, rainforests with natural sounds that match the images. You have to try it to see the impact. You will literally be transported to those places.  Bloom is an app where you can include daily reminders including inspirational notes that you can load with images (your own pictures or from stock) and music. In this app, you can include reminders such as remembering to take a break, remembering to take a deep breath. You can schedule those messages to pop up throughout the day. It is kind of fun to get the messages when you least expect them but when you need them the most.

These are just a few ideas of endless activities you can do to keep up with your self-care. What may work for one person, may not work for another. The key to self-care is doing activities that can nourish our minds, bodies, and souls. The tools are within our reach to practice consistently, as a necessity, as a way of survival just like breathing and eating.

A Students’ Guide to Making the Most of Field Placement

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Being a social work student on my final placement before I graduate, I know how daunting and challenging they can be. From my own student perspective, I have put together some tips that I hope will help you make the most of your placement.

All social work degrees in the UK require students to undertake compulsory placements. In Northern Ireland, where I am based, students must complete two placements of 85 days and 100 days in practice, respectively.

Once you have received your placement, the nerves may start to creep up on you but try not to let them affect your enthusiasm!

First things first, do your research. Read up on the area/specialism that you will be working in as this will provide you with knowledge about what to expect and what the role might entail. Although, social work has no set role and changes depending on what area you are in, so it is important to bear this in mind. Our expectations of how we view the social work role can negatively impact how we perceive our placement so it is best to stay positive and keep an open mind!

In Northern Ireland, we are required to arrange a pre-placement visit. This is just a meeting with your practice teacher to talk through the logistics. If your university does not require this I advise thinking about organising one anyway. They allow you to meet your practice teacher, the team and to get a real understanding of the environment you will be working in. This can be a good way to minimise anxiety!

Every placement is different. As students, we sometimes have an idea of the area we want to work in when we graduate. This is good but don’t let it put you off other placements! You may find that your mind changes with your experiences!images (1)

Be organised! Keep and maintain a diary that sets out your working hours. Do you have assignments? Make sure you know when they are due. You need to time-manage effectively. Some placements will allow you to complete assignments during your working hours, however that depends on the service users. They are your priority!

Make full use of supervision! Supervision is vital regardless of whether you are a student or professional, so don’t waste the opportunity it provides. This may be your only time with your practice teacher. Prepare what you want to talk about and set an agenda. They will be impressed if they know you are motivated, proactive and thinking about practice.

Not everyone hits the ground running, and it’s okay to have doubts about your placement and/or your own abilities. I doubted myself during my first placement, but don’t let one placement dictate your view of social work. Some placements can be challenging, but there are things you can do to make it that little bit better!

Find a staff member that you can work alongside. For my first placement, I wasn’t placed in a statutory setting, so I did not work with other social workers. This can be daunting, but you are not alone. There are many other members of staff more than willing to help you! Find one who you can communicate with and who you think could give you good ideas. Staff members know the service users, so don’t be afraid to ask questions as they may have knowledge you can utilise that you won’t find in a textbook.

Know yourself. Sometimes, as students, we get so overwhelmed by what all our friends are doing that we worry whether we aren’t getting a good experience. When you have spent many semesters reading pages upon pages, once you get out into the real world of practice, we sometimes have expectations set too high. We have thought about what we want and what we hope to do, but placements can’t change to our way of thinking. We need to adapt to theirs. Changing your mindset about how you view your placement can help you understand exactly what you need to achieve and how.

In the UK, there are evidence criteria that have to be met during placement. Usually these are listed in a huge table in a 288 page document. Break it down. Go through each standard, either on your own or with a team member, and jot down ideas as to how to meet it.

Placements aren’t meant to be easy. Social work in general isn’t easy, but don’t overcomplicate it. You can only work with what you are given. Adapt work to suit your placement and your learning needs. Think of things in the context of your own placement, this makes it easier to understand exactly what you need to do.

If you need to, talk to someone. Never keep an issue to yourself. Social work requires us to be available, physically, mentally and emotionally. We cannot work with people effectively if we are worn out or stressed. Talk to your practice teacher, or a university tutor as chances are the issue will have arisen before with other students and they will know exactly how to help!

Honesty is the best policy! As students we sometimes have the dilemma of, if we see something in practice that we don’t agree with, should we challenge it? Weigh up the risks. You are going somewhere on placement that some people may have worked at for years. An ethos can be drilled into an organisation and change is not a quick thing. However, don’t be afraid to ask why things are done a certain way and if you don’t feel comfortable doing this publicly, mention it in supervision. Supervision is a ‘safe place’ and a place for you to critically reflect on your practice.

Self care is important because placements can be tough and draining. Look after yourself! Do things that help you relax, maybe yoga, reading or exercise. Listening to music really helps me zone out but I would also recommend adult colouring books! These are great for alleviating anxiety and just channeling your energy for a while and there are also free apps too if you want to try it out!

Lastly, have fun! You are on your way to becoming a qualified social worker. This may be one of the last times you can do social work without the heavy case loads and the safety net of university! Be open to it, seek out your own work and view everything as an opportunity.

3 Tips for Talking to Children about Traumatic Events like Malaysian Airlines Flight

Let’s face it, it is almost impossible to shield children from negative world events. In our ever-connected society, breaking news stories reach far beyond the evening news. All too often, these tragic stories involving mass casualties are catapulted for days across radio, television, newspapers and become the topic of conversation for many. We see this with any major domestic or international story, just as we’re seeing now with the shooting down of  Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

griefAs adults, these heartbreaking stories often take an emotional toll on us. Some make us cry, others evoke anger or frustration. For children however, these reactions can be far more complex. Children may withdraw, become easily irritable, experience decreased appetite or have nightmares. Even worse, some children can develop strong responses to locations that remind them of these tragedies (i.e. an airplane, school, etc.) and experience an aversion to these locations. But why do children react so much differently than adults?

The difference lies in our ability to process information. There are a few important differences in the way adults and children receive and process the information on the news. When adults hear about a tragedy such as MH17, they are able to identify this as an isolated incident occurring as a product of the Ukrainian-Russian tensions. In other words, adults are able to receive the story in context. Children, however, do not yet possess the ability to do so. This means a child isn’t automatically able to identify the event as isolated or interpret the event’s context to better understand the cause. In other words, a child may likely feel that this event could happen to any airplane at any time.

If left uncorrected, this belief can lead a child to develop anxiety surrounding planes or flying. Additionally, adults do not typically re-experience the event as new every time it is mentioned on the news. In fact, we do quite the opposite by becoming increasingly numb to the information over time. The same is not true for children, who are likely to hear every news report as if the event is occurring over and over. Anytime an event like MH17 occurs, it is important to be aware of the way your child is receiving the information. The only way to do this is by talking to them.

The good news is – talking to children about tragic events does not have to be complicated. Here are a few tips that can help you facilitate the conversation with your child:

1) When you notice the information being broadcast around your child, ask them what they feel about hearing the information. It’s completely normal for a child to say “nothing”, so do not try to press for an emotional response if the child doesn’t immediately offer one. You can also ask the child if they want to ask any questions about the event. This lets the child know that you’re available and open to talking with them about the event. If the child doesn’t express any feelings or questions about the event, a simple explanation of the information should be sufficient.

2) If the child asks questions, respond to them honestly and in a way they will understand. If your child asks why flight MH17 crashed, provide a basic but honest response. Often, a question such as “why did the plane crash” is really the child asking “can the same thing happen to me on a plane?” Be sensitive to what the child is really asking and tailor your response appropriately.

3) Follow-up with your child. A day or two after talking to your child about a tragic event, let them know that you’re still available to talk if they have any other questions. Children often privately reflect on the things they experience. Checking in a few days after explaining the event to the child allows an opportunity to address any new questions the child may have. Processing news of traumatic events is crucial for helping our children understand these events.

It’s a good learning opportunity for the child and provides a great opportunity for bonding in a meaningful way.

References:

Haelle, Tara. “Children exposed to traumatic news events need parents to help them process feelings.” dailyRx, December 17, 2012. Available at:

Peer Pressure: Tips for Parents

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Teenagers do not have an easy time in today’s world. Along with maintaining their academic grades, completing homework assignments on time, learning how to drive a car, and making first attempts at romantic relationships, kids have a lot to think about every day. Many teens succumb to peer pressure during this experimental and confusing time in their lives. Even if you have taught your children about the dangers of drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, her friends may have more influence at times than you do. How can you help your teen make good choices?

Speak Openly to Your Kids

One of the best things you can do, as a parent, to combat peer pressure is to talk openly with your children. Ask them about their friends, their hobbies, and their feelings – anything that can help them understand that you are someone they can trust; someone they can share concerns with. Let your teen know that it is OK to make mistakes, but when it comes to alcohol, those mistakes can be deadly.

If your teen tells you he feels pressured to drink in order to fit in with the clique at school, explain to him that true friends would never encourage him to do something he isn’t comfortable with, especially if it is something illegal, like underage drinking. Talk to your teen about experiences in your own life if possible in which you didn’t go along with the crowd and still achieved happiness and did great things.

Know the Warning Signs

When you suspect your teenager may be headed down a destructive road, you have every right to investigate. Her life may depend on it. As a parent, it is your duty to periodically check emails, text messages, and Internet search history.

Look for conversations about drinking, partying or anything else that may be alcohol or drug related inferences. Pay attention to teen lingo such as, “POS” (parent over shoulder), “PAW” (parents are watching), and “PIR” (parent in the room) that might be used during conversations about covert actions.

Explain the Consequences

One of the biggest concerns you can convey to your teen about drinking is the serious consequences – legally, emotionally, and financially – that drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) can have on her future.

States have various DUI laws addressing drinking under the age of 21.  Young people are usually surprised by the severity of the charges, especially in some states. For example in Florida, one DUI attorney at Katz & Phillips, PA points out that the legal drinking age has been 21 since 1987 and one drink could put a teenage on the wrong side of the law.

“Adults are not legally considered to be driving under the influence in Florida until their blood alcohol concentration reaches .08 percent. If you’re under 21, you don’t have that luxury. You’ll blow over at .02 percent – the legal limit for underage drivers — and you can be charged with a DUI.” ~David Katz

Teenage drinking is a serious issue that could result in a criminal record, license revocation, and even jail time. The more seriously you explain the consequences, the better the chances your child will realize the gravity of this dangerous activity and choose to refrain from it regardless of what his friends are doing.

How to Get Ahead in Your Job Hunt

It’s no secret that the economy is rough out there these days. There are so many people on the hunt for a job, and this can go a long way to explaining why you might be having difficulty finding employment. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get an edge.

Job huntBe Prolific

If you don’t have a job, then you should make finding a job your new temporary job. If you want, you can make it official in your head by setting hours for each day for your job search. There are so many people looking for jobs these days that you really can’t just send out an application once every two weeks and expect to actually have your job hunt find you something. You have to be applying every day; however you want to do that.

Make a Killer Cover Letter

You have to kind of split the difference between standing out and being polite in your cover letters. Firstly, you should absolutely write a cover letter every time. Don’t use canned letters either. Employers can tell when you do that because they review cover letters all day. You can consider them to be experts on the ones that are actually written out and the ones that are written from a form. It might seem like you can just change the form for each, but in order to get enough details in there you might as well just write it out in the first place. Talk about the job in particular filling in details to show off that you read their entire ad. But at the same time, it will definitely help to try to stand out. Tell a joke in the beginning, or a funny related anecdote, or anything at all that will convince your very tired human resources person to actually consider your application instead of going onto one of the other hundred letters they have to read. Remember, they want to be done, to fill the position and not go through any more drudgery. Write a great cover letter and help them help you.

Specialize

It’s a good idea to narrow down exactly what type of job you want as much as is practical. Basically, you don’t want to narrow your search further than there are jobs available, but you want to get it narrow enough that you aren’t overwhelmed with choice, and also so that you can show of specialty skills in your field. If you want to break into writing online, you can better your chances by narrowing your search to a field like Technology. However, if you also have experience writing about topics like Android, and even took a class or two in college about it, then it can help to look even more specifically for Android writing jobs in order to increase your chances.

Get a Phone

It can be a deadly spiral if you don’t have a phone because you need a phone in order to get a job, and that’s a given. Most jobs require you to have a phone of some sort so that they can contact you, partly to even conduct interviews in the first place, but also for communication during your potential future employment. But if you don’t have a job to begin with, you might not have money to get a phone. Fortunately, there’s the Lifeline program, and this program allows you to sign up with various different providers in order to get limited free cellphone service. Generally those that are making money under the poverty line in their state will qualify.

Five Provocative Tips On How To Stop Your Addiction As Of Today

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Are you sick and tired of your addiction? Smoking, adult content on the web, online gambling, alcohol, or others? If you tried to quit and didn’t succeed until now, you probably committed one of five typical mistakes. Here are five tips that you probably never thought about. Apply them as of today and you will get rid of your problem more quickly than you ever imagined.

1. Don’t stop overnight.

Did you try to stop your bad habit with New Year’s resolutions and similar approaches? ‘As of tomorrow I won’t … ‘? This won’t usually work. Your brain is used to your drug, whether it’s alcohol, chocolate, adult content, casinos, smoking or whatever. Your brain learned that it’s good for you. It won’t give up that behavior. Reduce your dose slowly instead. 10% every week. Allow your brain to get used to less. Set yourself a two-months-target. Then it won’t hurt. No cold turkey. 10% every week are small steps. You can take small steps. You will be successful. The more successful you are the more you will like it and the more you will keep on going.

2. Observe yourself.

Allow yourself to give in to your urges. Smoke, drink, watch, whatever it is that you want to give up. As you learned in step 1, you will slowly reduce your addiction. You won’t do it overnight. While you give in to your addictive behavior, watch yourself. Observe how you feel, what you do exactly, how it feels before and afterwards and while you do it. Make it become a more conscious behavior. It is harder to exaggerate in whatever you do when you have a sober mind. It will help you reduce your addiction further, by 10% every week.

3. Analyse your addiction.

A typical mistake most people make is that they only rely on their will power. There are reasons why you become an addict. Find the underlying reasons for your behavior. Go back to the times when you smoked, drank, watched adult content or gambled for the first time. Why did it you do it? Which pain did you want to heal? Why did it feel so good? Can you forgive people or forgive yourself for bad things that happened to you? Are there alternate sources of those feelings that you get when you take your drug? Can you define new goals in life for important areas such as partnership, job, hobbies, body and spirituality? Identify the triggers for your cravings. The more you analyze yourself, the more you release old pain and the more you strive for new horizons, the less often you will feel cravings.

4. Give up feelings of guilt and shame.

There are reasons why you did what you did. Stop feeling guilt and shame. The more you feel bad about yourself the more you want to kill those feelings with new addictive behavior. When you feel craving, tell yourself: I could do it now. Nobody said that it’s forbidden but do I really want to do this now? Don’t let it become compulsive. You have the choice whether to give in to the cravings or not. If you do, fine. You’ll be stronger next time. Be happy that you don’t give in every time now. Feel more positive about yourself. Be proud that you started a self-help approach. Get into a positive cycle.

5. Seek professional help.

You don’t need to lie on a couch and breaking your addiction may not always require a rehab center. However, there are good books, e-books, and audio programs to help you on the road to self-discovery as well as some excellent self-help programs. You may also want to connect with others struggling with your addiction, and there are some good forums on the internet for you to try. Just don’t do it all by yourself and try to benefit from the experience of others. Don’t forget, allow yourself two months to break free.

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